Desi Arnaz was born into a wealthy family in Santiago de Cuba. However his family lost everything due to the Fidel Castro regime and were forced to flee to Miami in 1933. Arnaz’s father established a trading business in Miami. To save money, the father and son lived in their rat infested warehouse. Desi Arnaz cleaned bird cages to make a little money but after a while managed to secure his first gig as a guitarist for the Siboney Septet. Arnaz was discovered by Xavier Cugat, the king of Latin Music and was hired by him in New York. Having returned to Miami in 1937, Arnaz introduced the Conga line to American audiences, which was a hit locally and nationally.
Desi Arnaz didn’t only possess musical talent, he was also a great actor. Arnaz starred in the Broadway musical ‘Too Many Girls’ in 1939. It was there he first met Lucille Ball, who he married in 1940. Arnaz went on to make three films before being inducted into the army during WWII. Arnaz did not see any combat as he was injured. After the war, Arnaz became the orchestra leader on Bob Hope’s radio show from 1946-1947. He also recorded several hits during the late 40s.
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball formed a production company named, ‘Desilu’ in 1948 and began to develop their own TV programme ‘I Love Lucy’. Arnaz and Ball played a married couple in the show and therefore the programme had many parallels with their actual marriage. The programme 1st aired on CBS in 1951 and was a hit from the offset. The network had been reluctant to cast Arnaz as the lead of the role due to his heavy Cuban accent but in actual fact it turned out that the show helped Americans to accept Hispanic immigrants. The programme was televised around the world and was the No.1 show in America for four out of six of its seasons. A lot of the programme’s success was down to the way in which it was produced. Arnaz decided they would use three concurrently filming cameras. It was filmed in front of a live studio audience using multiple sets and was one of the first TV shows to be shot on 35mm film. Arnaz was credited with pioneering many of these production techniques. He set the trend for others to follow.
Arnaz attributed the success of the show to his wife’s performance. The real life couple had such a strong chemistry on set, many could relate to the programme as it touched on many personal and taboo issues. ‘I Love Lucy’ won Emmy awards in 1952 and 1953 for best situation comedy and was the most successful television programme in history. Reruns of the programme were aired in 1955, making ‘I Love Lucy’ the first ever show to have reruns televised whilst new episodes of the prime time show were still being aired. The last new episode aired in 1957.
By the mid-50s Desilu Productions was an empire that grossed millions and employed around 800 people. In 1957 Desilu Productions bought RKO studios, where Arnaz and Ball first met. Desilu Productions made films such as ‘Our Miss Brooks’ and ‘The Untouchables’. The production company was sold in 1967 and became Paramount.
Desi Arnaz was a truly amazing entertainer and producer. He has 2 stars on the Hollywood walk of fame for his contributions to motion picture and for his contributions to TV. His family lost their fortune and started from the bottom in Miami, but Arnaz did not let this rocky start shape his future. Arnaz published his autobiography, ‘A Book’ in 1976 and he hosted the ‘Saturday Night Live’, in order to promote his new book. Arnaz is one of the 20th Century’s most iconic entertainers and has inspired many who have come after him. Desi Arnaz changed the production industry and set precedent when others were afraid to try new techniques. Desi Arnaz, Carribean1st absolutely salutes you.
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